Test run for Amazon? Game-changer event showcases all the attributes Newark should pitch this week

By Tom Bergeron
Newark | Apr 9, 2018 at 7:00 am
Editor’s Desk

The ‘game-changing’ technology announcements the city of Newark made at New Jersey Institute of Technology last week — the introduction of LinkNWK, a free Wi-Fi network, along with the Summit Voice event, a three-day conference on the leading edge of natural language processing —  was not meant as a warmup for this week’s Amazon visit.

Perhaps it should be.

The announcements, city officials said, were just more affirmation that the Brick City is becoming a high-tech hub with a growing city center that combines business, technology and higher education.

Those same Newark officials would be smart to emphasize all the reasons these groups came to Newark when the Amazon selection team comes to town.

Consider:

Connectivity and dark fiber: It would be difficult (and expensive) to put in the type of fiber Intersection would have needed to run its Link network — a network of 45 wi-fi kiosks placed across the city that not only will give residents free services, they will give NJIT the ability to advance its mission of creating smart cities of the future.

Intersection chairman Dan Doctoroff said as much.

“Getting access to fiber and connectivity is one of the first things we look for,” he told ROI-NJ. “The ability to get to that without having to do all the digging made it very cost effective to come here.

“They were very innovative and visionary to think about this ahead of time.”

Connectivity to higher education: It’s not just the 50,000 college students in town on a daily basis — and the thousands of tech students and professors at NJIT eager to collaborate — it’s the new facilities in town.

The WEC, NJIT’s cool-looking state-of-the-art Wellness and Education Center that opened in January, already is attracting the type of events Amazon wants to be around.

The VOICE Summit (set for July) and the Metrolab event in October (where mayors and city officials from all over will discuss public-private partnerships to improve quality of life) are just two of many events already set to come to the arena that comfortably holds around 4,000 people and offers the use of more than a half-dozen or so conference rooms.

Lori Brown, senior director, strategic events and conference services at NJIT, said she’s giving a tour almost every day.

“We are in the sweet spot, smaller than the Pru Center but bigger than NJPAC,” she said.

NJIT President Joel Bloom understands the appeal of the WEC. It’s not just the building, he said, it’s the area, the atmosphere and the people around it.

“Tech companies want to go to a tech environment to host events,” he said.

Personalized service: Newark Community Economic Development Corp. head Aisha Glover, under the direction of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, always brings a full team to any meeting.

“We’re bringing everyone to the table from all these different agencies, all these different nonprofits,” Glover said. “They always say, ‘Wait, you’re not just going to make an e-mail introduction?’ We say, ‘No.’

“We’re all-hands on deck with every conversation. We don’t just do that for Amazon, we’re doing that for every conference and every small tech company that shows interest in coming here.”

The service is noticed.

Pete Erickson, founder of Modev, said it was the main reason he selected Newark to host the VOICE Summit over the other finalists: Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York.

“What we got was a team to work with,” he said. “We didn’t just get a location and some considerations. What we got here was entirely different.

“We had the city of Newark, we had the convention and visitor’s bureau, we had the economic development corporation, we had the university — we had a confluence of people who all came together and they spoke with one voice and said we want to host this event.

“We were sold.”

Let’s hope Amazon feels the same way.

— Tom Bergeron